Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Activity-centred Design - a response to Joshua Porter


[Please forgive me for posting this response on my own blog, but the editing tools are better here than your comments form, and I get to keep a copy of my thoughts!! ]

In response to your article "Activity-centered Design" published at http://bokardo.com/archives/activity-centered-design/ I would like to offer the following...

I agree wholeheartedly that ACD is a valuable, well-directed, and successful (ie proven) approach to the design of digital (and physical) products and services. However, I disagree that it is superior per se, and I'll expound on that thesis during the rest of this response.

Firstly, to my mind (and in my experience) the key factor determining the success of a methodology is the skill with which that method is applied. The second key factor is in the suitability of the methodology to the project.

Your (team's) ability to successfully apply an ACD methdology relies on a combination of capabilities, people, experience, and tools. Once you've decided to focus your attention on the application of ACD to your projects, you need to cultivate your ability in those capabilities that are most critical to the ACD methodology. You need to hire staff with the right mix of skills, who have the attitudes necessary, and who are skilled at working together in appropriate ways to make that happen efficiently and effectively.

Now, let's say I decide to follow a User-centred design or goal-directed design approach. What I will be doing is hiring staff with a necessarily different mix of skills and expertise; deep capability in other aspects of UX architecture and design; able to work together in a different configuration and on different tasks than those your ACD teams is doing.

Finally, when each team - ACD, UCD or GDD - is approached to undertake a specific project we will put together a plan of action that plays to the strengths we've developed within the broad context of our chosen methodology. The ACD team might modify their approach to bring it closer into line with a traditional UCD approach; the UCD team might modify their's to bring it closer into line with a traditional ACD approach - by emphasising certain tasks over others.

In my own experience, ACD is best applied to projects wherein the needs of users have little or no impact on the collection of tasks that are required to satisfy the activity being undertaken. I have in mind sites like harvestapp.com, rememberthemilk.com or flickr. Where the user audience is not homogeneous with respect to the core purpose of the site/application, then I (personally) find ACD to be less suitable, and an alternative approach needed.

However, this belief is based on my own capabilities, knowledge and experience. I necessarily tend towards the methodology (as a collection of tasks in a particular order) that plays to my strengths and allows me to best apply those strengths to the problem at hand.

All I can suggest is that you - and your team - do the same.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Your friend Steve Baty has signed up for Ocsober!

Here's the official blurb...

Your friend Steve Baty has signed up for Ocsober!

I have signed up as a participant in this year's Ocsober campaign.

What's Ocsober?

Ocsober is an alcohol free month being run during October. It's a personal challenge whereby I don't drink, you sponsor me and the money raised goes directly to Life Education Australia - to educate Aussie kids about the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Its going to be tough - that's why I am asking for your support - and a donation or two! Plus some messages of personal encouragement would be greatly appreciated. To sponsor me, go to my profile page .

Also, while I have already signed up - how about you? It would be a great to share the challenge with you. It's free to sign up, so why not have a look at the Ocsober website at www.ocsober.com.au

One more thing, for those who need to celebrate or just have some time out during the month - you can purchase a Legends Leave Pass for up to two (2) days during October - which allows you to have a drink on the designated days.

Remember, all sponsorships $2.00 and over are Tax Deductable Donations to Life Education Australia.

So why not give it a go? Be sober in October - for our kids.



Now, a part of me thinks this is so totally un-Australian that I can't believe the event is sanctioned in this country. I checked the rules, and by 'No alcohol' they mean "No beer" too!! Somewhere, probably Miami, Bob Hawke is weeping into a schooner glass, lamenting what this country has become.

But, sadly, that's exactly the problem. Our kids absorb attitudes to alcohol at such an early age that they hit their teens with firm perceptions about what's "acceptable" with respect to alcohol consumption. So it's really, really important that we make a conscious effort to set an example that will help the next generation of kids grow up without the same issues of alcoholism and binge-drinking - and all the social, physical and emotional problems that ensue - that haunt our own.

So, join me; support our team; play a small but significant part in helping to solve this great and pervasive problem in Australian culture.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Willy Wonka for the Age of Information

Over the past couple of months I've had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking about how various companies conceptualize, design, produce, market & support their products and services. I've being doing this as part of the preparation for my presentation at ozIA 2008, but also as a more general exercise in my work as a user experience strategist and architect.

I've taken time to look at how companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo! and Nokia shape their strategies and what the future looks like for these companies. I've also looked at the different ways in which these companies position themselves with respect to that future. And it's been interesting to note that a lot of these companies use scenarios as a planning device.

The Nokia Morph concept, which I showed at ozIA 2008, is a good example. The video shows off a concept of what a consumer electronics device might look like in 10 years time, when nanotechnology has been commercialised; gestural interfaces and direct manipulation are the norm; and the physical world is overlaid constantly with the information shadow of the objects that make it up.

Nokia use this concept in several different ways:
  • as a means of galvanising efforts within the organization towards enabling the future as it is envisioned in the concept;
  • as a means of communicating in concrete terms the skills, technologies and capabilities staff and departments will need to master in the coming years - both singularly and collectively - to bring that vision to fruition; and
  • as a means of communicating to us, the public, a possible future in which Nokia plays a more central role in our day-to-day lives.

We were fortunate enough to see August de los Reyos from Microsoft's Surface team provide us with similar insights into the way Microsoft envisions the future of computing. It shares many of the same traits as Nokia's vision, although it takes place at that intersection between business and intelligence.

It isn't necessary to buy in to every aspect of these futuristic concepts - either in the detail or the trajectory - in order to appreciate the fact that these organizations are plotting a course towards a brighter future and asking us to come along for the ride.

But then there's Apple: a company standing apart who's not only leading the way at the present, but demonstrating - through it's new products being released each day - that the future may not be what we expect. That futuristic concepts give us a glimpse of something ultimately unsatisfying on their own.

No, rather than espouse or articulate a vision for the future Apple sets about changing our present. We are not given any insight behind the process; no sneak peaks; no road maps. Instead we are presented with a seemingly endless stream of hand-crafted, unique experiences, that change the way we interact with the world. Steve Jobs has turned Apple into Willy Wonka's Cholocate Factory, and we are left peering through the locked gates of 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino waiting for the next piece of magic to be released.

Apple product releases are anticipated, discussed, debated, dissected and anticipated some more. Like Willy Wonka's "Ever-lasting Gob-stoppers" we never quite learn the secret of how they're made, but we know we want them, and so does the rest of the world. In the meantime, Mr Wonka (aka Steve) has moved on to the next surprise.

The role of the 'future concept' is not invalidated by the success of Apple's genius design approach; nor has the use of such concepts guaranteed the deliverable of ground-breaking products for the likes of Microsoft or Nokia. However, since not all companies have a Steve Jobs at the helm, it's nice to know they're using the tools at their disposal to work towards designing a better future for us regardless.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Obama blend coffee

I was running low on coffee beans today so stopped in at Campos coffee in Newtown for a top-up. Campos is one of the best coffee houses in Australia - well worth the trip even if you aren't in the area.

I have to say, though, that their sense of humour was a bit of a surprise. They had a new coffee blend for sale today: Obama blend coffee. I can't remember the exact the description, but the following will give you an idea.

"The Obama blend:
An appealing blend with surprising depth, combining African and American beans to provide a rich cup of coffee. Good for people looking forward and interested in change."

Definition of Information Architecture

After a very vibrant, and extended (some would say 'protracted') discussion on the IA Institute members' mailing list, the IA community has put forward a range of ideas on what should be adopted as the 'formal' - or, at least, the 'official' - definition of the phrase "information architecture".

The one I most like, and the one I'll be adopting for now, was this one - articulated by Todd Zaki Warfel:
"Information architecture organizes stuff to make it useful, findable, and actionable.
  • For ecommerce sites, we organize products and descriptions to make the shopping experience better
  • For content and news sites, we make finding the stories you're interested in easier
  • For information systems (e.g. aviation systems) we organize gauges and displays to help reduce error"
I like the way this is constructed with the DIY examples at the end to help contextualise the definition for whatever audience, project, or discussion you may be having at the time. I know there are some holes in this - it doesn't address the fact that 'information architecture' is also a discipline or emerging community of practice. But, to be perfectly honest, I don't care. In 99% of cases, no-one I discuss IA with will care either. So I'll stick with this one for now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

WebJam 8 - don't be a bum!

If you've never been to a WebJam before then it might not be entirely clear what you're in for. Think 'Open Mike' comedy night for code monkeys; think rock'n'roll; think karaoke; think Australian Idol - with Big Brother-style populist voting.

WebJam is one of the most energetic, friendly, good-humored, brag-a-delic, social events for the Web community you're likely to find anywhere; ever. If you're not going to be there, then, in the words of former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke "you're a bum!"

WebJam 8 is being held on Thursday 25th September at Bar Broadway, opposite the University of Technology, Sydney, and coincides with the first day of Web Directions South.

The night is brought to you buy the side-choppin' awesome of Lachlan Hardy and 'Scenario Girl' Lisa Herrod. And, of course, there's some people putting up some cash in sponsorship, including Adobe, the dudes at Happener, and your's truly at Meld.

So, don't be a bum! Come along and support your local Web talent. Have a free drink (on me). And enjoy a night with your peers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Only 2 more sleeps 'til oz-IA 2008 !!!

Workshops for oz-IA kick off on Thursday - only a few places left, so if you're looking to attend one of these, get a damn wriggle on!

However, the main conference program kicks off on Saturday morning when James Hunter - a fellow Dept of Education consultant - talks about how he's making the transition from zero to hero (in a UXD sense).

Now that the program has been finalised I can work out when I need to be in attendance, sober, and/or attentive (honestly, I'm joking). But there are some presentations I'm really looking forward to hearing. These include:
  • Donna Spencer (4:40pm Sun), Lisa Herrod (1:45pm Sunday), and Andrew Boyd (9am Sunday) - because they're good people, and really, really know their stuff
  • Stephen Cox talking about documenting & presenting user research for business stakeholders (2:45pm Sun);
  • Oliver Weidlich (1pm Sat) looking at how the iPhone has changed the mobile landscape
There's a lot more going on, including presentations from Iain Barker, Shane Morris, Roger Hudson, and Matt Hodgson, which I'm also looking forward to hearing - although Shane's got it tough with his 9am Sunday slot after conference dinner/drinks on Saturday. He'll need a Surface computer and dancing girls to wake people up - that's a hint, Shane :P

Oh, and of course you can't forget to listen to me at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. I'll be talking about strategy, and UX strategy, and how they shape your world, whether you know it or not. And if someone could have a stiff drink waiting for me when I'm done, I'd really appreciate it. Preferably a single malt whisky. Preferably preferably an Islay malt.

See you at ozIA.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Hear ye! Hear ye! Call for Proposals: 10th Annual ASIS&T IA Summit

Spreading the word for IA Summit 2009. If you think you've got the goods to present on the big stage, take note:
Call for Proposals: 10th Annual ASIS&T IA Summit
March 18-22, Memphis, Tennessee, US

The Information Architecture Summit is a premier gathering place for information architects and all those who touch on IA to discuss, share and learn more about information architecture. Last year's IA Summit attracted well over 600 attendees from a wide range of fields, from 21 countries, and from beginners to experienced IAs.

As this will be the 10th IA Summit, we are seeking proposals for presentations, panels, case studies, research papers, posters and pre-conference seminars, hands-on workshops and consortia that address this year's theme: Expanding Our Horizons.

Proposals can stretch this theme* *by looking back over our history, forward into emerging trends, platforms and technologies, in addition to addressing our core IA principles and the business of IA. The theme is wide open for interpretation and we look forward to seeing proposals that explore the field in ways that interest people most, and from a wide range of backgrounds, disciplines and functions.

Because user experience design is not just about methods and deliverables, but also about getting results for employers and clients, this year we will have a specific track devoted to business, strategy & management.

Building on the tradition from the past two events, we will continue to seek and present research papers that make empirical or theoretical contributions to information architecture. (You do not have to be affiliated with an academic institution to submit a research paper.)

We encourage submissions from both within the field of IA - practitioners, academics and students alike - and the related fields of library science, user experience, interaction design and user-centered design; as well as from those fields and disciplines that go beyond the traditional horizons of IA and the web.

How and when to submit: *For more information about the various tracks and how to submit a proposal, please see: http://iasummit.org/2009/*

When: Now! We're currently accepting submissions until October 31st, 2008, if accepted we'll notify you via email during the first two weeks of January 2009.For more information about the IA Summit and past events, please see: http://iasummit.org/